Put forward by Rep. Keith Self, R-Texas, the amendment if passed, would prohibit the use of funds to “write, prepare, or publish any final or interim final rule relating to, or otherwise implement of enforce, the proposed rule entitled ‘National Organic Program; Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards’ published in the Federal Register on Aug. 9, 2022.”
The OLPS proposed rule, if finalized, would standardize livestock health care practices, including physical alteration procedures that are prohibited and restricted for organic livestock; living conditions “to better reflect the needs and behaviors of the different species, as well as related consumer expectations;” and transport of animals, including new requirements on the transport o organic livestock for sale or slaughter, according to the Federal Register notice published last summer.
The goal of the proposed OLPS rule is to “promote a fairer and more competitive market for organic livestock producers, by making sure that certified USDA livestock products are produced to the same consistent standard,” according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Threat latest in long line of hurdles
The threat posed to the proposed OLPS rule by Self follows similar Republican lead actions in recent years that have dogged the organic industry’s efforts to update its animal welfare standards.
An earlier, final version of the OLPS regulations were passed in the 11th hour of the Obama Administration after nearly 15 years of negotiation by organic stakeholders, industry and government. But before the industry could celebrate its hard-won victory, the Trump Administration froze the passage on the grounds that the sweeping changes exceeded the statutory authority of the National Organic Program.
In response, the Organic Trade Association sued USDA in the fall of 2017 for repeatedly and allegedly illegally delaying and threatening to potentially suspend the rule potentially indefinitely. The trade group claimed the Trump Administration’s freeze never should have applied to the rule because it was finalized before the administration came into office.
In response to the still ongoing lawsuit and an outpouring of public support for updating organic animal welfare standards, the USDA under the current administration published the current proposed OLPS rule.
Amendment threatens more than animal welfare
The latest affront to the OLPS rule threatens more than just an update to the animal welfare standards under the organic certification – it also threatens the overall “future of organic,” according to OTA CEO Tom Chapman.
“Organic producers and anyone who values organic needs to realized that this is about a whole lot more than animal welfare,” he said in a statement released yesterday.
He explained that if the amendment is adopted “the entire structure that governs USDA’s National Organic Program would be weakened, ultimately causing severe economic harm to tens of thousands of organic producers and businesses across the country, and irrefutably shaking the confidence of consumers in the USDA Organic label.”
The USDA Organic standard is unique in that it is governed by USDA’s National Organic Program, which was established to be a living certification program that could be updated by taking into account advice from the National Organic Standards Board. It is also a voluntary standard and those who do not wish to adhere to the standards are not required to, but cannot be certified as organic if they do not comply.
OTA promises to fight ‘latest threat’
For some in the industry, the saga of the OLPS standard’s validity has become a stand-in for the industry’s ability of the organic industry to foster continuous improvement and accountability of the organic standards to meet both industry needs and consumers’ evolving expectations.
From this vantage, Chapman argues OTA and the organic industry “have been fighting against efforts to weaken the organic system and prevent organic standards from advancing for decades.”
He argues, “the latest move to tie the hands of the USDA in carrying out its legal responsibilities regarding organic will not stand, and we urge all organic stakeholders to speak out against this and for Congress to solidly defeat it.”
OTA also promised to launch “an all-out effort to stop this latest threat.”
The House Rules Committee is slated to meet today, July 26, to consider Self’s amendment and other proposed changes to the Agriculture Appropriations bill.